February is National Children’s Dental Health Month – a great time to sink your teeth into a study of dental health. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), “cavities are one of the most chronic diseases of childhood in the United States…the good news is that cavities are preventable. “
- About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years has at least one untreated decayed tooth.
“Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t."
So, with these statistics, let’s involve young children in the study of good oral hygiene with fun activities that teach. Here are a few to get your theme started.
Start With a Day in Tooth School
I love beginning my theme unit with a book. Check out Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller. This book teaches important facts about the types of teeth and their functions, the importance of brushing and flossing, and other dental health lessons. However, along with the facts, the kids get humor too. I love when the children say their pledge to Dr. Flossman:
“I pledge allegiance to the mouth and to the dentist who takes care of us. And, to the gums for which they stand, strong and healthy, with toothbrushes and toothpaste for all."
Let’s Make Homemade Toothpaste
Have a discussion about toothpaste. Encourage the kids to talk about their favorite kinds and flavors. Let them mimic how they brush their teeth. Tell them they should brush at least two minutes twice a day. Send an informative letter to parents on how to make tooth-brushing fun for kids.
Why not experiment with making homemade toothpaste? Combine the ingredients inside a small bowl and stir with a spoon. Dole out a small amount inside a plastic baggie and send this home with the children. Note the recipe on paper so the parents are aware of the ingredients. Ask the parents to allow the kids to try the toothpaste and talk about the texture and taste. Be sure that the kids know to rinse their mouths well after brushing (and not eat the paste, even if it smells and tastes good).
4 teaspoons baking soda
1-teaspoon sea salt
1 drop natural flavoring (vanilla, almond, peppermint or orange)
(I’ve used this recipe myself and with my students. I sometimes add coconut oil to make the paste less abrasive. The coconut oil should be creamy, not liquid.)
Flossing is Boss
Just brushing your teeth will not clean the areas between the teeth or below the gum line. Daily flossing is a good habit to learn.
Make a simple model of a mouth with teeth and show the children how to use string to go in and out between the teeth. This is how I made mine.
- Take a circle of cardboard and paint it pink like healthy gums inside the mouth.
- Use an egg carton and cut apart the individual cups. Glue these along the mouth shape to look like teeth.
- Put small pieces of tissue paper in between the eggcup teeth. These papers will be the plaque.
- Use string to demonstrate flossing and show how it rids the tissue paper away from the teeth.
Here’s a simple, but fun experiment to help kids understand how sugar affects their teeth. Take a hard-boiled egg and have this replica a tooth. Ask your students to imagine that the egg is the tooth and the shell is the enamel on the tooth. Divide your students into lab groups and provide each group with two eggs, two clear plastic cups, a marker, cola, grape juice, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Day One of the Experiment:
- Label each cup – one for cola and one for grape juice.
- Place a hard-boiled egg into each cup. Pour cola in one and grape juice in the second cup.
- Place the cups aside until the second day.
- Hypothesize what will happen to the eggs.
Day Two – Let’s Check the Eggs:
What happened to the eggs? Are they stained? (Drinks such as cola and fruit juice can stain our teeth because the sugar in the drink combines with the acid and bacteria in our mouths to form plaque and stains.
Take turns carefully brushing the surface of the eggs with toothpaste to try to remove the stains. (Without brushing and flossing our teeth, the acid can eat away our teeth and cause cavities.)
Use this fun game as a way to review the facts that your students have learned during this dental health theme unit. Ask the kids to sit in a circle and have one child begin by holding a toothbrush while recounting one fact that he/she has learned about dental care. After stating a fact, have this child pass the toothbrush to the person on his right – now this child states another fact. Continue around the circle until every student has a chance to tell what he or she has learned about teeth.
End With a Fun Book and Rhyme
With young children, it is necessary to talk about loosing teeth. We emphasize about taking care of our teeth so they last a lifetime, but we also need to address that baby teeth are going to fall out to make room for our precious permanent teeth.
Begin by reading the book, Andrew’s Loose Tooth by Robert Munsch. This hilarious tale is about how Dad, the dentist, and even the tooth fairy are having a difficult time pulling Andrew’s loose tooth. Then, enjoy chanting these fun rhymes together.
A Wiggly, Jiggly Tooth
I’ve got a wiggly, jiggly tooth.
It’s ready to leave my head.
Even though I move it around,
It still hangs by a thread.
I’ve got a wiggly, jiggly tooth.
I’ll give it one more try.
First I’ll move it back and forth.
Oops! Now it said goodbye!
My Wiggly Tooth
I had a very wiggly tooth.
It bothered me a lot.
I worked until I pulled it out.
Now, there’s an empty spot.
Rhymes from Copycat Magazine, Jan/Feb. 2002, Author Unknown
Copycat Magazine, Tooth Talk, Jan/Feb 2002
Personal experience as a teacher in an early childhood classroom
Craft photo courtesy of Tania Cowling, all rights reserved